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  • Writer's pictureLeslie A. Farber

When Should You Call the Police?

Updated: Jan 24, 2019

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Most of us would not hesitate to call 911 in an emergency. However, there are many situations where we may question whether or not calling the police is the right thing to do. In some instances, you may be legally required to contact law enforcement and there are serious consequences for failing to do so.

So when do you need to call the police? The following are a few examples of when it may and may not be advisable.

Your Personal Safety is Threatened

If you have been physically threatened or harmed or believe another person's safety is at risk, you should contact law enforcement immediately. Protecting the personal health and safety of yourself and those around you is a priority, so take action in any situation where you do not feel safe or someone is in physical danger or needs medical attention.

You are a Victim of a Property Crime

Call police if you are a victim of a property crime such as a break-in or burglary (if the robbery is not in progress, you do not necessarily have to call 911.) The police may be able to gather evidence or information to help their investigation, and your insurance company may require a police report to compensate you for stolen or damaged property.

You Witness a Crime

Witnessing a crime involving loss of property or harm to others can be a traumatic experience, and many people are afraid of getting involved and/or being called on to testify should a case go to court. While the average citizen is not required to report a crime if they see one, it may be the right thing to do. Keep in mind that in most states, including New Jersey, you can report a crime anonymously.

There are some crimes you may be legally required to report depending on where you live or where the crime occurred. For example, in Texas, failing to report an offense that resulted in serious bodily injury or death is a Class A misdemeanor. In addition, if you witness the planning of a crime or have knowledge of ongoing criminal behavior and do not report it, you could be charged with conspiracy or as an accessory.

You are a Mandatory Reporter

Some crimes impose a mandatory reporting requirement on certain people whose jobs put them in positions of responsibility. For instance, if teachers, school staff or medical personnel witness child abuse or neglect, they could be liable if they fail to report it. There are 48 states with mandatory reporting laws that require adults working as teachers, teachers' aides, employees at day camps and youth centers, social workers, physicians and other professionals to report suspected abuse or neglect to the authorities.

While these laws vary, any professional that engages in regular contact with children may be required to report suspected child abuse or neglect. Eighteen states, including New Jersey and New York, require any individual who suspects child abuse to report it.

You Have a Troublesome Neighbor

Involving police in a dispute with a noisy neighbor should be a last resort. Law enforcement often does not like to be called for low-level offenses like excessive noise or trampled garden beds. Try to resolve the issue on your own or with the help of others. If your personal property is damaged or stolen, you feel physically unsafe or you suspect criminal activity, call the local police station. Some low-level offenses are considered misdemeanors and the state could have a legal claim against your neighbor.

While millions of calls to 911 requesting police assistance are made each year, there are differences in who makes these calls any why. In part, it is because the difficult relationship many black Americans have with police officers impacts their inclination to seek help or report crimes.

Federal data indicates that black Americans are less inclined to call 911 for help than their white counterparts, a tendency that is exacerbated after reports of police violence. People in marginalized communities do not feel confident in reaching out to the authorities, and often must consider whether or not police involvement in the situation will only make it worse.

To find out more about your rights and legal obligations when it comes to contacting police or reporting a crime in New Jersey, feel free to contact us at 973-509-8500 x213 or

The contents of this writing are intended for general information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion in any specific facts or circumstances.

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